Monday, February 28, 2005

Best Oscar Lines: Some (silly, idiotic, killjoy) Christian groups had protested the selection of Chris Rock to host the Oscars, but it’s hard to imagine any other mainstream comedian making this sort of joke: "Nobody wanted to make 'Passion of the Christ,' man. Come on. They made six 'Police Academies' and can't make one 'Passion of the Christ.'"

It was the best line of the night. But the award for second best line has to go to Robin Williams, who observed: "SquarePants is not gay. Tight pants, maybe. SpongeBob Hot Pants, you go girl. What about Donald Duck? Little sailor top, no pants. Hello?" ... "Bugs Bunny? In more dresses than J. Edgar Hoover at Mardi Gras. Hello?"

Telling the Truth:

Sometime during the early twentieth century, American Protestants had a revelation that was nicely summed up in various slogans like, "Deeds, not creeds," and "Doctrine divides, service unites." It was, as one might delicately put it, a nice thought. For centuries Protestant churches had become increasingly fractured over seemingly minor points of doctrine. But as the Epistle of James had observed: "For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead" (2:26). Why, then, shouldn't Protestants--and, indeed, all Christians--focus on those works that alone make our faith living rather than those dogmas that divided us?

And then came the Great War; Stalin's purges; Hitler's Holocaust; Mao's 'Revolution.' Millions and millions perished, and, with the advent of the Cold War and the nuclear age, it seemed likely that many millions more might die. For the first time in human history, human beings had learned how to wipe out entire cities and render whole regions of the earth unihabitable. Slowly, gradually, it dawned on many that the deeds-not-creeds approach to Christianity had a fatal flaw in that it tended to obscure the close nexus between the content of faith and the nature of what one will deem to be a good work.

Take lying. Most of us agree that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. Indeed, most of us believe this for reasons that don't seem to depend on Christian doctrine ("Oh what a web we weave..."). But the devil is in the details, and in actual everyday life it is the details of circumstance that work together to make lying so tempting.

Say you've made a commitment to meet a friend for dinner. When the day comes, however, you find yourself busier than you'd anticipated. You're having a hard day, as we all say, and you realize it would be ever so much easier to simply cancel the date and reschedule for another time. But you fear that doing so might send the wrong message that you don't value the friendship. And so, rather than risk a misunderstanding, you make up a "white lie." You tell your friend something has come up and, in a way, it has: you're much more tired than you thought you'd be when you first scheduled the date. Going through with the plans now, you tell yourself, would defeat the whole purpose for which they were made.

It all seems so harmless and easy. But is it? Paul Griffiths of the University of Illinois, Chicago, doesn't think so. In his book Lying: An Augustinian Theology of Duplicity, Griffiths sets forth and defends St. Augustine’s notoriously rigorous position on lying. For Augustine, he explains, to lie is to speak contra mentem, against the mind. It is to say one thing while thinking another. This “duplicitous” use of language is the evil proper to lying because it contradicts the very being of creatures made in the image of the Triune God—the God whose identity is revealed in the Word spoken by the power of the Spirit in the man Jesus Christ.

One reviewer puts it this way: "contemplating the legitimacy of duplicity is tantamount to contemplating the dissolution of Christian theology: it is entertaining the possibility that words might legitimately conceal rather than reveal identity." But this is a thought that Christians cannot entertain. "For I have not spoken on my own authority," Jesus says of his life and work in the Gospel of John; "the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me" (John 12:49-50).

It is this very same pattern of faithfully hearing and faithfully speaking that Christians are called to imitate when, through Christ, we come to participate in the Triune life of God. But we do not imitate Christ--much less become one with him as he is one with the Father (cf. John 17:22)--when our words to one another are not faithful reflections of who we are. Nor do we build the community of trust that God seeks for us. When we tell "white lies," we not only fail to tell the truth about ourselves, we make it impossible for others to place the sort of faith in us that genuine friendship requires.

Hence the reason why it is better to simply tell your friend the truth when you cancel a dinner date rather than make up an excuse. Your friend may not always understand why you can't keep your word, but chances are they won't be your friend for long if they're not even given the opportunity to try.
Fair-Weathered Homophobes: The Economist has an excellect editorial urging the U.S. to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military. Money quote:
According to a recent poll of enlisted men, more than half thought gays should be allowed in the armed forces. In the current time of overstretch, even the older, more conservative, officer class seems to be changing heart. The number of gay discharges rose steadily till 2001, when America went to war in Afghanistan; since then the annual figure has halved. As for the idea that the ban reflects American mores, polls suggest that at least 64% of Americans would allow gay soldiers.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Anglican Schism?: This strikes me as bad news: "Anglican leaders struggling to resolve explosive differences over homosexuality have asked the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to temporarily withdraw from a key council of their global communion because of the election of a gay bishop in the United States and the blessing of same-sex unions there and in Canada."

On the other hand, as much as I am a supporter of gay marriage in the church, the ecclesiology of the Anglican Communion is such that the local provinces cannot expect to go it alone on important issues such as these and not be forced to answer to the whole communion. Still, as I wrote here, this does not explain why the other provinces seem to care so much more about gay marriage than such basic issues of doctrine as the divinity of Christ.

Update: More on the suspension of the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion's international council here and here.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

'Naked in the Pulpit': I thought the same thing: what's the address of that church? But, alas, it's just an article about how one minister's preaching became "an act of intimacy in the pulpit." Oh well. Maybe some day.
Class Rings: "It used to be if you saw a ring on someone's finger, you knew exactly where they went to school. It used to be more of a unity thing," says Joanne Butts, a representative for the class ring company National Quality Products.

But those days are long gone. As the Post reports:

With hundreds of options -- symbols for everything from rock music to calf roping to paintball -- a ring can be all about the student and only incidentally about the school.

Oddly, though, the percentage of graduates who purshace class rings has fallen from one-half in the 1960s to one-third now. Yet more evidence, I suppose, of how our American love affair with personal autonomy and hyperindividualism at first changes tradition to improve it, but ends up only killing it.
Righting the Religious Wrong: "Listening to the rhetoric coming from the religious right, one would think every person of faith in Wisconsin feels terribly threatened by the prospect of same-gender marriage," Rev. Bob Voss of Lake Edge Lutheran Church writes in an opinion piece. "This is far from the truth. Christians of all dominations across Wisconsin, and members of other faiths, are appalled by the current drive to change the Wisconsin constitution to permanently outlaw not only marriage, but any official recognition of same-gender partnerships."

Meanwhile, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams urges those on both sides of the debate over homosexuality within the Anglican Communion to calm their push for "immediate resolution." In other words, let the Spirit be the Spirit, and don't try to put a timetable on its work of guiding the Church into the truth.

Sounds like good advice to me.
Blame the Buddha!: The thought came to mind as I read the interview with Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist nun and best-selling author, that is posted today on Belief Net. In it Chödrön discusses her discovery of Buddhism, explains how pain can be a great spiritual teacher, and then dispenses these words of wisdom:

We need to let the story line [of our problems] go and have an immediate experience of what's actually happening, without blaming ourselves or anyone else. This is an important message for Westerners, because we get hooked on a story about a problem.

In Tibetan Buddhism this hooked feeling is called shenpa [Listen to an audio clip about shenpa.] It's an urge, a knee-jerk response that we keep repeating over and over again. We lose our balance and intelligence. But you can notice when it happens. You can acknowledge it. You can catch yourself. You can do something different, choose a fresh alternative. Because if you do what you've always done, you're never going to get unhooked.

What's so interesting about this statement is the suggestion that westerners resort to self-blame when things go wrong while easterners do not. My own brief study of medieval Japanese history in college, however, would lead me to believe that one could just as fairly argue that the reverse is true. The well-known Japanese practices of seppuku and hara-kiri, for instance, condone suicide as not only an appropriate response to personal shame, but one that, in certain circumstances, is the only honorable thing to do.

How, I wonder, does Chödrön square this with her suggestion that in Buddhist cultures people don't fall into the trap of "get[ting] hooked on a story about a problem"? Surely suicide is not the sort of "fresh alternative" for dealing with one's sense of shame that she would recommend.

Again, my understanding of Buddhism is limited. But I suspect that the Japanese glorification of suicide cannot be understood apart from the Buddhist emphasis on personal enlightenment as opposed to the communal practices of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation which lie at the heart of Christian salvation. This difference, it seems to me, goes a long way toward explaining why the church, unlike Buddhist culture, has traditionally condemned suicide as the gravest of sins.

Lending further support to this claim is the fact that, even today, Japan continues to suffer from one of the highest suicide rates in the world. It's a problem, moreover, that appears to be growing worse with the advent of internet-based suicide pacts. As one Japanese author who has written a best-selling handbook on suicide recently told the BBC:
'There's nothing bad about suicide. We have no religion or laws here in Japan telling us otherwise. As for group suicides - before the internet people would write letters, or make phone calls... it's always been part of our culture.'
It's a shame Chödrön did not discuss any of this in her interview. I would have been genuinely interested in learning what light, if any, western Buddhists might be able to shed on this very important subject.

The Resurrection of the Dead:

Here's an interesting blog that offers a "friendly view of the Bible from an atheist."

From what I can tell, it's an accurate description. I must take exception, however, with one thing that John Ray, the site's blogger, wrote:

Do Christians believe that Heaven is a place where there are physical bodies with bosoms -- physical bodies that even lean on one-another for support and fellowship? No? Quite to the contrary, Christians believe that to be the OPPOSITE of the truth. They believe that Heaven is in fact a spirit realm.

Whether or not this is emperically true, it certainly is not true from the standpoint of orthodox Christian dogma. There is a "spirit realm," I suppose, but it's important to realize that this, too, is part of God's creation, for God himself does not exist in any "realm." He is, so to speak, beyond "realms." Put another way, God simply is. Thus the divine name, YHWH, can be translated as "I am" in all tenses of the verb.

But the story is more complicated than that. When the orthodox speak of Heaven, we may mean where God is, but, unfortunately, that gets us back to the idea of "realms" and must be understood as a not entirely accurate way of speaking about God. Alternatively, we may mean where Christ--who has assumed human flesh--is, and where the dead either are or will be when the heavens and the earth pass away and the new heavens and the new earth are come.

But what place is this? The short of it is that no orthodox theologian has ever dared to say. Yet this does not mean we don't know some things about this "place." The key doctrine here is the doctrine of the Incarnation, which holds that Christ was, is, and will always now be both fully God and fully human. In short, we believe that Christ came in the "flesh," that on Easter morning he was raised in the flesh, that he then ascended into "heaven" in the flesh, that he continues to bear flesh as he "sits" at the right hand of the Father, that he now becomes present to us in the flesh through the Eucharistic feast, and that one day he will return to earth in the flesh, judge the quick and the dead (who also will be raised in the flesh), and establish his kingdom (which will be a physical as well).

Thus the flesh, the physical, and the body are very much at the core of what Christians believe about "heaven." It's not for nothing, we believe, that God created us in the flesh; he did so because this is the way or mode of being in which he intends us to live.

On the other hand, this idea is complicated by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 15, where Paul speaks about "spiritual bodies" and "the perishable put[ting] on the imperishable." But even here we do not shed our bodies; nor are they "translated" into the imperishable. Instead they "put on" something else (the "spiritual" or "imperishable"), which suggests that they become something more than they are now, not something less.

One analogy that comes to mind is the difference between a photograph and a living person: both bear similarities to one another, and both are "physical." But the living person is far more physical than the photograph--e.g., 3 dimensions rather than 2-- not less. In the same way, we believe that the imperishable flesh or the spiritual body will be far more physcial than the perishable bodies we now have, but that they will also bear similarities to one another just as photographs of people "look" like the people pictured in them.

Passionate Cyncism?:

It was Jesus who said that the children of this world are wiser than the children of light, a point that seems to be borne out by this post from blogger Michael Gallaugher of Christian Convervative.

At one point, for instance, he complains that Hollywood continues to church out movies like Sideways ($58 million) and Million Dollar Baby ($54 million) rather than producing more blockbusters like the Passion of the Christ ($370 million gross). Then, in the very next sentence, he writes: "But they don’t care. Their view of the world is so cynical it transcends money."

Huh? Isn't it the cynical who care about nothing of the art of storytelling and therefore make movies based solely on the bottom line?

No doubt people are cynical in many different ways, and for many different reasons. But I don't think it either conservative or Christian to suggest that naked materialism would somehow be a preferrable mode of cynicism.

Update: Gallaugher says that I mischaracterize his point. Apparently, he was appealing to the bottom line to suggest that Hollywood has an inherent anit-Christian bias--something that, no doubt, is true. But in this I suspect that Christians are not entirely without blame. I wonder, for instance, how many Christian writers there are who (1) actually write decent scripts that (2) dramatize faith rather simply moralize or push theology?

I have no idea what the answer to this question is. But it does seem like something that ought to be investigated before we start casting stones. But, alas, in this century as in the first, the latter option seems to be ever so much simpler.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Pope on Gay Marriage:

"It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man," Pope John Paul says in a newly published book.

I'm not quite sure yet what to make of this. In fact, I'm not entirely convinced that the Pope, in his current condition, really wrote this book. Nevertheless, blogger Tom Chatt of Upword has a well-considered post on the subject here.

Superman Is a Penis:

At least according to this website -- though that's not the word they use.

(Hat tip: Sharks With Lasers.)

'Beasts of Satan':

"They are murderers," says Lina Marino, mother of Chiara Marino, whose daughter was murdered during a Satanic ritural performed by members of heavy metal band. "It's not fair."

She was referring to the sentences received by the killers. For killing three people--including one person whom they buried alive--the "mastermind" was sentenced to 30 years in prison, while the second received just 16 years. A third was cleared because of his "secondary" role in the murders; the remaining members of the cult are set for trial later this year.

According to CNN, "Prosecutors asked for relatively light prison terms because the suspects cooperated with the investigation and expressed remorse."

The reference to how the killers made things easy for the authorities sort of gives new meaning to the saying, "No harm, no foul," doesn't it? Well, at least they were sorry.

Meanwhile, a Vatican-linked university recently opened a two-month course on exorcism to combat the growing popularity of satanism in Italy. If you're interested in applying to the program but aren't quite sure what to put in your admission essay, Father Giulio Savoldi, Milan's chief exorcist for the past 20 years, explains what they're looking for:
I would include the supernatural force - the presence of God - and then suggest that the man picked to do this kind of work be wise and that he should know how to gather strength not just from within himself but from God.
Indeed. As this article explains:

Widely accepted signs of possession - some of which were depicted in the 1973 movie, "The Exorcist" - include speaking in unknown tongues and demonstrating physical force beyond one's natural capacity. In 1999, when the Vatican issued its first new guidelines since 1614 for driving out devils, it urged priests to take modern psychiatry into account in deciding who should be exorcised.

The updated exorcism rite, contained in a red, leather-bound book, was a reflection of Pope John Paul II's efforts to convince the skeptical that the devil is very much in the world. At the time, he gave a series of homilies denouncing the devil as a "cosmic liar and murderer."

Whiny Little Brat:

That's my take on columnist Mike Adams, but you be the judge:
In 2001, I was jogging on campus when I passed a group of feminists marching in the annual “Take back the night” event. After they marched by me shaking their fists and screaming, I first experienced [erectile dysfunction]. They certainly took back that night!
I'm all for good conservative writing, but there's a difference between writing that is satirical and writing that is just plain bitter. It's called wit. There's also a difference in ends: satire seeks to expose, and hence eliminate, stupidity or ignorance. Mere scorn, on the other hand, seeks only to attack for the sake of attacking.

Europe's New 'Faith':

CS Monitor has a must-read article about the growing "religion gap" between the U.S. and EU. Among other things, the article notes that just 21 percent of Europeans say that religion is very important to them compared to 59 percent in the U.S.

Others, however, insist that the story isn't quite this simple. According to Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian politician whose ambition to become the European commissioner for justice was thwarted last year by the European Parliament, which objected to his description of homosexuality as a sin:
"The new soft totalitarianism that is advancing on the left wants to have a state religion. It is an atheist, nihilistic religion - but it is a religion that is obligatory for all."
The article notes that the new European religion may be contributing to a potentially even more momentous change on the continent: rapidly falling birthrates which, combined with Islamic immigration, portend a radically different Europe in the coming decades. As Mary Noll Venables explains in Books and Culture:

If you ask the average European woman of child-bearing age how many children she would like to have, you are unlikely to receive the answer "2.1." That number, however, is crucial for European bureaucrats. When women on average bear less
than 2.1 children, as has happened in most European countries over the last several decades, the country can no longer reproduce itself and must rely on immigration to keep its population stable and its social system healthy....

[Suddenly] private choices about having babies have worked their way into public debate.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The iGod:

Technology has given us a universe entirely for ourselves — where the serendipity of meeting a new stranger, hearing a piece of music we would never choose for ourselves or an opinion that might force us to change our mind about something are all effectively banished.

So writes Andrew Sullivan in his latest column for the Sunday Times. And yet it's not just culture that's been affected by the advent of what Sullivan calls the iWorld; it's the "cult" around which culture exists as well.

An untold number of Christian groups, for instance, have created virtual "iChuches" where a person can read devotionals, take Bible studies, hear a sermon, join an online community, and even take a quiz that will tell you whether you've been saved and, if not, how to do it--all without ever actually meeting another human being in person.

So far, I haven't come across a site that promises to baptize or celebrate the Eucharist via the internet. It also bears point out that, at this point, it would be premature to suggest that the iChurch is anywhere close to being ascendant in the religious world. Still, this does not mean that Christians shouldn't be more wary than perhaps we are about substituting the internet or television for the weekly ekklesia ("gathering") that, for 20 centuries, has been the definitive practice of the Christian faith.

Our God may well be the God of the Internet; but he is not an iGod, and he did not create us to live in isolation from one another--least of all in our spiritual lives. The promise of Satan--that a self unencumbered by the bonds of community will flourish and find happiness--is a lie. Just ask those who've spent time in solitary confinement. They will tell you that the self is the smallest and loneliest prison of all. The real wonder is why so many of us who don't have to bear such a punishment nonetheless choose to do so.

But it's not just ourselves we need to worry about. Proponents of other faiths are also busy setting up virtual religious communities, including some who stand ready to exploit the loneliness of those who seem to have no ties to any real community at all. The recent Satanic ritual slayings discussed here, for instance, highlight a growing problem in the secular, atomized cultural landscape of western Europe:

Beyond the violence, Italian officials are concerned about young people who develop personal forms of Satanism, outside the sects closely monitored by police. They often learn about the devil through the Internet.

"It's a more spontaneous and hidden phenomenon, a problem of loneliness and isolation, a problem of emptiness, that is fulfilled by the values of Satanism," said Carlo Climati.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Interview With a Vampire:

Christianity Today has an interview with Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, who is the leader of one of the most controversial Islamist groups in the U.K.

Here’s an excerpt characteristic of the Sheikh's obfuscating take on terrorism:

What about the hostage-taking and massacre of schoolchildren in Beslan, Russia, in September 2004?

As stated, there is no restriction on place (it could even occur in Mecca)—so schools are legitimate targets of jihad, but it is up to local mujahedeen [those who engage in jihad] to decide the best strategy.

Killing women and children never was and never will be part of the jihad in Islam, whether that be the women or children of the Muslims or non-Muslims. So if Chechen mujahedeen killed women and children in Beslan, I would condemn it. The children of non-Muslims, such as those at Beslan, who die in such circumstances go to Paradise.

Notice the use of the word “if.” Perhaps someone should let the good Sheikh know that there is no doubt the “mujahedeen” killed children in Belsan. At least 156 of them, and maybe many more.

Here’s a website where you can learn more about what happened during the attack and what can be done for the surviving children, many of whom are disfigured, cannot walk, see, or hear, and continue to suffer severe psychological stress.

The Simpsons:

I guess it was only a matter of time, but gay marriage has finally come to Springfield.

Bush on 'Kicking' Gays:

In private conversations with George Bush secretly taped by an old friend before the 2000 election, the future president explains that he had no plans to "to kick gays, because I'm a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?"

Too bad Karl Rove never got that memo.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Free Speech or Bad Manners?:

Charges against the "Philadelphia Four" were dropped last week. The four Christian protestors had been arrested for refusing to obey police orders that they stop disrupting a gay pride parade by, among other things, reciting anti-gay Bible verses on a bullhorn. The judge ruled that such peaceful expressive activities are fully protected by the First Amendment and cannot form the basis of a criminal prosecution.

All in all, this is a good result for Christians, gays, and gay Christians. The fact is that we are in the midst of an important cultural debate about the place of homosexuals in American society and the Church. Silencing those on the wrong side of this debate would not only be the wrong thing to do from a constitutional standpoint, but it might actually hinder our ability to win genuine support for our cause.

Still, the judge’s decision leaves unanswered a much more basic question: Do the Christians who would disrupt the peaceful celebrations of gays and lesbians really think they are called by God to do this? Yes, the Bible says that sodomy is a sin. But Jewish law also mandates an ethic of hospitality that would seem to run counter to this sort of "free speech":

Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Ex. 22:21)
The logic of this command is really no different than the do-unto-others ethic of Christ, and it would seem to counsel against resorting to the sort of "speech" the Philadelphia Four engaged in. During the incident, which happened in October, several of them were calling out, "Sodomists repent. You're going to hell," a police officer testified.

At some point, those who would justify these kinds of spiritual threats by appealing to the First Amendment must also ask whether they would want gays and lesbians to demonstrate in front of their churches, disrupt their services and celebrations, and attack their faith using similarly incendiary rhetoric.

Would these Christian really find such tactics to be an acceptable exercise of “free speech”? Or would they simply find it to be what any good mother would call it: bad manners?

So Much for Courtship:

This is lifted from a comment written by Brendan on gaypatriot:


Have you ever checked out the "personals" section at Craigslist? They have all sorts of dating categories (men seeking women, women seeking women, etc.), but only one category carries the following disclaimer:

1. I am at least 18 years old.
2. I understand men seeking men may include explicitly sexual content.
3. I am not bothered by explicitly sexual content.
4. By clicking on the men seeking men link below, I will have released and discharged the providers, owners and creators of this site from any and all liability which may arise from my use of the site.


Kinda gives the impression that gay men are obsessed with lewd talk, meaningless hookups, and pleaures of the flesh.

So much for "courtship."

Friday, February 18, 2005

Global Consciousness & the Incarnation:

"It's earth-shattering stuff," says Dr. Roger Nelson, whose Global Consciousness Project--orginally hosted at Princeton University and now joined by researchers around the world--aims to detect whether all of humanity shares a single subconscious mind.

You can read the entire article here. The short of it is that a growing number of carefully designed experiments have suggested that the human mind possesses powers which no known laws of science can (yet?) explain.

For instance, Random Event Generators (called Eggs) are machines that generate random numbers which, according to the law of chances, should generate equal numbers of ones and zeros. A researcher in the 1970s decided to investigate whether the power of human thought alone could interfere in some way with the machine's usual readings:

He hauled strangers off the street and asked them to concentrate their minds on his number generator. In effect, he was asking them to try to make it flip more heads than tails. It was a preposterous idea at the time. The results, however, were stunning and have never been satisfactorily explained.

Again and again, entirely ordinary people proved that their minds could influence the machine and produce significant fluctuations on the graph, 'forcing it' to produce unequal numbers of 'heads' or 'tails'.

During the 1990s, Dr. Nelson decided to set up 40 Eggs around the world and hook them up to his lab at Princeton. Then, on Sept. 6, 1997, something odd happened: "the graph shot upwards, recording a sudden and massive shift in the number sequence as his machines around the world started reporting huge deviations from the norm."

That was the same day that an estimated one billion people worldwide watched the funeral of Princess Diana on television. The most amazing finding, however, occurred the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when similar fluctuations began to occur four hours before the terrorist attacks. The same thing happened last December 24 hours, only this time the fluctuations began 24 hours before the earthquake that generated the tsunami occurred.

Dr. Nelson admits he has no idea what, exactly, these findings suggest about either the human mind or time (i.e., whether time runs backward as well as forward). But he does draw this conclusion:
We're taught to be individualistic monsters. We're driven by society to separate ourselves from each other. That's not right. We may be connected together far more intimately than we realise.
What Dr. Nelson does not mention--and what, without implying any disrespect for the work of Dr. Nelson, must be pointed out--is that there are already a number of people who believe exactly this, and have for some time now. They're called Christians.

Writing during the Second World War--a time when it was hard for anyone to have faith in the proposition that human beings aren't monsters--C.S. Lewis explained the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation this way:

The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man--a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone....

The result of this was that you now had one man who really was what all men were intended to be: one man in whom the created life, derived from his Mother, allowed itself to be completely and perfectly turned into his begotten life...Thus in one instance humanity had, so to speak, arrive: had passed into the life of Christ.

Lewis goes on to explain how Christian theology links this event--the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ--to all other events in human history:

[Human beings] look separate because you see them walking about separately. But then, we are so made that we can only see the present moment. If we could see the past, then of course it would look different For there was a time when every man was part of his mother, and (earlier still) part of this father as well...

If you could see humanity spread out in time, as God sees it, it would not look like a lot of separate things dotted about. It would look like one single growing thing--rather like a very complicated tree. Every individiual would appear connected with every other. And not only that. Individuals are not really separate from God any more than from one another. Every man, woman, and child all over the world is feeling and breathing at this moment only because God, so to speak, is "keeping him going."

From that point [of the Incarnation] the effect spreads through all mankind. It makes a difference to people who lived before Christ as well as to people who lived after Him. It makes a difference to people who have never heard of him....

What, then, is the difference which He has made to the whole human mass? It is just this; that the business of becoming a son of God, of being turned from a created thing into a begotten thing, of passing over from the temporary biological life into timeless "spiritual" life, has been done for us. Humanity is already "saved" in principle. We individuals have to appropriate that salvation. But the really tough work--the bit we could not have done for ourselves--has been done for us...

If we will only lay ourselves open to the one Man in whom it was fully present, and who, in spite of being God, is also a real man, He will do it in us and for us

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Polygamy Challenge Fails:

From Deseret News:

With a handful of court rulings over the past century upholding the constitutionality of Utah's ban on polygamy, those who choose to contest the prohibition face "an insurmountable hurdle," a federal judge said Wednesday.

With that, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart dismissed a lawsuit brought last year by three Utahns — a married couple and the man's would-be second wife — challenging the state's bigamy law and seeking a court order directing the issuance of a marriage license for the man and second woman.


The Supreme Court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, he said, cannot be read to require the state to give "formal recognition to a public relationship of a polygamous marriage."

"Contrary to plaintiffs' assertion, the laws in question here do not preclude their private sexual conduct," the order says. "They do preclude the state of Utah from recognizing the marriage . . . as a valid marriage under the laws of the state of Utah."

Gay Irresponsibility:

Some veteran gay activists are proposing radical new HIV-prevention strategies to combat unprotected sex among some sexually active gay men, including confronting these men directly in sex parties and chat rooms. Charles Kaiser, a noted gay author, explained it this way to the New York Times:

A person who is HIV-positive has no more right to unprotected intercourse than he has the right to put a bullet through another person's head.

But Bob Hattoy, an AIDS activist and former Clinton administration official, disagrees:

Three things led us to this point: A shameful lack of government-funded prevention and education, complacency brought on by the new meds, and the destructive power of crystal meth addiction.

Notice that Hattoy blames everyone and everything -- including the life-saving drugs which government agencies and pharmaceutical companies have spent billions of dollars developing -- except those gay men (up to 40%, according to a NYC study) who refuse to grow up and live sexually responsible lives.

I was a crystal meth addict a few years back. I was going out and doing horrible things and acting out at bathhouses. It placed me on a downward spiral. I was only able to forgive myself after I got clean and sober. It really brought out the dark side.

Let me see if I got this right: Hattoy reached a point where he regularly did "horrible things," and his response has been to forgive himself? What about asking forgiveness from all the people whose lives he endangered? And what about good old-fashioned repentance, as in to feel genuine reproach, regret, and remorse for one's actions?

We have to address this together as a community rather than blaming individuals. People who are addicted are out of their minds. It is certainly warranted to talk about addiction and sex in places like bathhouses and sex sites. But condemnation is not the answer.

Well, yes, we do have to address this as a community. No one disputes that. What we are disputing is how to best do this when the community in question is comprised of so many irresponsible adults who, long past the age at which drug and sexual experimentation can be chalked off to youthful ignorance, continue to engage in risky behavior that is now creating a very real--and very public--health threat.

As Gay Patriot West observes:

[T]oo many gay men have become so 'obsessed with sex' that everything else becomes secondary, not only the health and lives of others, but their own health and lives as well. For all too many, the quest for the best sex eclipses all other things--and becomes the be-all and the end-all of their gay identity. And the meaning of their entire lives.

Given the circumstances, what's wrong with a little blame? To blame, after all, means nothing more than "to find fault with" and "to hold responsible." Is this really too much to ask of grownups? Or do Hattoy and those who would excuse gay irresponsibility genuinely think gay men are too feeble-minded and weak-willed to be held accountable for their actions? And if so, why? Would this not run counter to all the arguments we are now making in favor of gay marriage?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Desperate Mommies:

Here's an article about how stressful motherhood is for "this generation":
I read that 70 percent of American moms say they find motherhood today "incredibly stressful." Thirty percent of mothers of young children reportedly suffer from depression. Nine hundred and nine women in Texas recently told researchers they find taking care of their kids about as much fun as cleaning their house, slightly less pleasurable than cooking, and a whole lot less enjoyable than watching TV.
Because, of course, if people don't find something "fun," then there must be a problem with it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

'Aides' and God's Judgment:

“Aides is God’s judgment on faggots,” the graffiti scribbled on the bathroom stall proclaimed. I can’t remember exactly when or where I saw it, but I’ve never forgotten either its misspelling of the word AIDS or its hateful—though not entirely irrational—message.

I thought of the graffiti again this weekend as I read about the new drug-resistant HIV strain that has so many health officials and AIDS activists on edge:

DOHMH officials issued the alert after a New York man who tested HIV-positive last December was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS earlier this month. (The usual progression toward AIDS takes years, not months.) The man, in his mid-40s, told health officials that he had unprotected sex with more than a hundred male partners, often while under the influence of crystal methamphetamine.
Yes, that’s more than one hundred sexual partners. And not just during his lifetime, but during the 20 months that lapsed between his last negative and first positive tests. The average American male, by way of contrast, reports just 20 lifetime sexual partners, with the median number reported being only eight.

The claim that gay men are incapable of monogamy is an old and contemptible canard. But it doesn’t take too many visits to anti-gay Christian websites to discover that the common perception of most gay men—that we tend to be far more promiscuous than our heterosexual counterparts—is not an entirely undeserved stereotype. In fact, it's not undeserved at all.

One study conducted in San Francisco before the AIDS epidemic found that, of 685 homosexual men surveyed, 83% reported 50+ partners in their lifetime, 73% had 100+, 58% had 250+, 41% had 500+, and 26% exceeded 1000 partners. A 2002 study of couples living in Seattle found that a total of 28% of respondents (31% of men and 26% of women) reported being in a relationship that had not been mutually monogamous. Few gays will be shocked to learn that reports of concurrent partnerships were far more common among gay and bisexual men (60%) than among heterosexuals (25%).

What is less well known is just how heavy the price of such sexual practices has been. An epidemiological study from Canada of data tabulated between 1987 and 1992 for AIDS-related deaths revealed that male homosexuals and bisexuals lost up to 20 years of life expectancy. The damaging effects of cigarette smoking pale in comparison--smokers lose on average about 13.5 years of life expectancy.

But the effect of the so-called “gay lifestyle” on life expectancy may be even greater. Not only is HIV/AIDS underreported, but gay men also suffer disproportionate rates of syphilis, anal cancer, and Hepatitis B and C, as well as suicide rates that are up to 3.4 times higher than the general U.S. male population.

“Aides is God’s judgment on faggots.” The claim sounds cruel. But can it not be said that the health crisis still being experienced by the gay community reflects, at least in some sense, God’s judgment against the sexual promiscuity of so many gay men?

As long as 50 years ago, the British writer Dorothy Sayers argued that the Christian doctrines of sin and judgment were so poorly understood that they needed to be completely restated:

The word punishment for sin has become so corrupted that it ought never to be used. But once we have established the true doctrine of man’s nature, the nature of judgment becomes startlingly clear and rational. It is the inevitable consequence of man’s attempt to regulate life and society on a system that runs counter to the facts of his own nature.

In the physical sphere, typhus and cholera are a judgment on dirty living; not because God shows an arbitrary favoritism to nice, clean people, but because of an essential element in the physical structure of the universe....

We must not say that such behavior is wrong because it does not pay; but rather that it does not pay because it is wrong. As T.S. Eliot says, “A wrong attitude towards nature implies, somewhere, a wrong attitude towards God, and the consequence is an inevitable doom.’”

And so must it be said of the doom that continues to befall so many gay men as a result of our wrong attitude toward sex. So many of us have gotten into our heads the image of an angry God zapping people in retaliation for their sins that, in rejecting this caricature, we've fundamentally misunderstood what the church actually means when it speaks of God’s judgment against sexual immorality. Thus, in the name of sexual liberation, we not only engage in risky behavior, but we pride ourselves as being urbane and sophistocated for doing so.

And so rather than facing up to the truth about ourselves—and rather than taking seriously the biological reality that, in a world of cause and effect, we cannot simply do whatever (and whomever) we please—and rather than reckoning with the fact that no piece of legislation and no Supreme Court decision can ever liberate us from our physical bodies—we blame our problems on homophobia. Or the lack of hate crimes legislation. Or the failture of the government to spend enough money on AIDS research and treatment.

And all the while we go on parroting the silly mantra that what is needed to fix the problem is more "education"—as though a lesson in the proper use of condoms would cure everything that ails the gay community. But latex can't shield us from the jealousies, the lies, the emptiness and ruined relationships that go hand in hand with sexual indulgence. It can't even shield us from HIV. Simply put, condoms fail. And with an average failure rate of 3% even with perfect use, they fail so often that, over the longhaul, condom use alone cannot be an effective strategy for preventing the spread of HIV.

Call it God's judgment, or call it the inevitable doom that results from a wrong attitude toward nature. But either way it has become more and more clear that our experiment in radical promiscuity, far from spelling an end to sexual "repression," actually has lead to everything that is the reverse of health, happiness, and sexual fulfillment. And yet, somehow, this collective surrender to all sexual desire still gets called liberation.

Family Values...:

A German zoo's plans to tempt its gay penguins to go straight by importing more females has been declared a failure. The zoo had hoped that the female penguins—flown in especially from Sweden, no less—would encourage the penguins at the Bremerhaven zoo to reproduce.

But the six male penguins, who have adopted “rocks” which they treat like eggs, showed no interest in their new female companions. As Zoo Director Hieke Kueck puts it: “The relationships were apparently too strong.”

...and the Lack Thereof:

He has had success at two things, losing elections and dividing the American family. Apparently his angry and hateful rhetoric has divided his own family.

So says Christopher Barron, political director of the Log Cabin Republicans, of the ultraconservative political commentator Alan Keyes. The occasion for the remarks is the news that Keyes—who called Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter a “selfish hedonist” during his recent failed bid for a U.S. Senate seat—has disowned his 19-year-old daughter Maya Marcel-Keyes in response to her decision to come out as a lesbian and get involved in gay activism.

But not to worry: Marcel-Keyes’ “hedonism” will not affect her father’s political ventures, as a two-sentence press release issued by Keyes promises:

My daughter is an adult, and she is responsible for her own actions. What she chooses to do has nothing to do with my work or political activities.”

Keyes, it may be recalled, lost his recent campaign for the U.S. Senate in one of the most lopsided popular elections in Illinois history, garnering just 27% of the vote compared to Barack Obama’s 70%.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Victim Wars:

The black writer Colbert I. King has a generally insightful column in the Post today that compares same-sex marriage bans to the anti-miscegenation statutes which once barred interracial marriages in 41 U.S. states.

The column is marred, however, by this smug little qualification:
Let's get one issue out of the way before the e-mails and letters start flooding in. I don't equate the long, bloody struggle of African Americans against racial injustice, ugly brutality and unjust treatment with the effort to give equal rights to lesbians and gay men.
Oh yes, the victim wars, that strange liberal pastime of ranking injustices and creating a heirarchy of victims. Who suffered more, African Americans or Native Americans? And which was worse: slavery, which lasted for centuries, or the Holocaust, which lasted just a few years? And what about white women? Where do they fit in on the discrimination continuum? They unquestionably suffered a lot under patriarchy; but a large number of them also benefited from the sweat of their black maids.

Then there are gays, lesbians, and other sexual minorities. King is far from being the only prominent African American to reject comparisons between their civil rights movement and ours. Jasmyne Cannick of the National Black Justice Coalition recently made this sweeping statement:
I don't ever want to see a white gay man stand before a camera again and equate his struggle to the Black civil-rights movement.
This is a remarkably condescending rebuke coming from a person who, unlike white gay men in America, enjoys every single civil liberty recognized by the U.S. Constitution. But since some African Americans seem bent on raising the question, let’s go ahead and ask it: How does homophobia compare to racism?

We know that racism is a relatively modern idea, a construct developed during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries largely to explain (and justify) slavery. In contrast, discrimination against those who engage in same-sex sexual behavior—death, castration, banishment, burning at the stake, electro-shock therapy—seems to have been well-established in the West as early as the times of Moses and Aristotle. Even in the ancient Greco-Roman world homoesexuality was to be confined to pederasty, temple prostitution, and the occasional lover; neither the Greeks nor the Romans had a concept of adult people of the same sex choosing to marry one another rather than a person of the opposite sex.

There are other differences between race and sexuality. African Americans have long formed a large, public community in the U.S. But due to the relatively small numbers of gay people, the possibility of hiding in the closet, and the fact we are not a group whose boundaries are determined by family or other readily identifiable traits, gays and lesbians never had a public community large enough to challenge prevailing views about homosexuality until the rise of large metropolitan cities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Indeed, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the very idea of homosexuality as a sexual orientation came to be developed.

So where does this put us on the victim scale? We never experienced anything like slavery, but unlike blacks and women, we did not have the benefit of a community which could share our struggles--or even acknowledge them--until relatively recently. Thus, while the Quaker Susan B. Anthony could turn to other suffragists and her church for comfort, and while the slaves of the Old South could draw strength from their families and churches, gays and lesbians had literally no one to turn to because, the moment they did so, their families and religious leaders would have become their enemies.

Whether this makes our experience worse or only different and more lonely--I have no idea. I just know that, to whatever extent our movement bears resemblances the black civil rights movement, this gay white man will go on making comparisons between the two. Ms. Cannick and Mr. King would do well to listen to the comparisons rather than simply condemning them. They might even learn a thing or two about their own failure to live up to that principle of equality to which they claim such commitment.

Friday, February 11, 2005


Do Democrats really think Howard Dean can cure what ails the party?

I ask that with all seriousness, as a person who would very much like to vote for a Democrat who would actually support gay rights, all of them, and not simply ask for our money.

Defending Terrorists:

Bad news for defense attorneys representing alleged terrorists:

Radical lawyer Lynne Stewart was convicted Thursday of smuggling messages from her jailed client -- a blind Muslim cleric convicted of terrorism -- to his Islamic fundamentalist followers in Egypt, actions that a jury found amounted to material support for terrorism.

The jury deliberated for 13 days in Manhattan federal court before delivering guilty verdicts against Stewart and two men. U.S. postal worker Ahmed Abdel Sattar was convicted of conspiracy for "plotting to kill and kidnap persons in a foreign country" by publishing a paper urging the killing of Jews. The third defendant, Arabic interpreter Mohammed Yousry, was found guilty of providing material support to terrorism.

The verdict -- which could carry a sentence of at least 26 years -- staggered the activist lawyer. As the jury foreman spoke, Stewart, 65, turned pale, slumped back into her chair and began to cry. But half an hour later she was again the leftist lawyer who has stood at the center of so many high-profile cases in the same courthouse, offering no apologies.

We read an earlier decision in this case for my international criminal law course my first year of law school. I have to say that, while I happen to be a strong supporter of the war on terror, this strikes me as deeply disturbing news. Most of the "evidence" in the case amounted to little more than a determination on the part of Stewart to offer her client the best possible defense and a willingness to push the edge in doing so.

Was she willfully blind to the fact that her client was passing along messages to the interpreter? Perhaps. But at the same time, it is doubtful that her client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, was a danger to anyone at the time the alleged "conspiracy" took place. Stewart and her co-defendants were accused of scheming to obtain Rahman's release. She was found guilty of trying to cover up secret conversations between Rahman and his followers--even though she does not speak Arabic--and violating federal regulations by publicly announcing in 2000 that the cleric had withdrawn his support for a cease-fire between the Egyptian government and the Islamic Group, a fundamentalist organization that carried out terrorist attacks on tourists and police officers.

But these charges seem petty compared to the role of zealous advocate which defense attorneys are supposed to play in our adversarial system. As David Cole, one of my professors at Georgetown, has said:
"This will have a chilling effect on lawyers who might represent an unpopular client. The prosecution showed videotapes of Osama bin Laden, of terrorist attacks . . . it was all very inflammatory."

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Ballsy Brits:

A Welsh rugby fan cut off his own testicles to celebrate Wales beating England at rugby, the Daily Mirror reported on Tuesday.

Here's another story about British testicles:

Amanda Monti, 24, flew into a rage in May last year after Geoffrey Jones, 37, who had ended their long-term relationship, rejected her advances.

She grabbed him by the genitals, tearing off his left testicle, then hid it in her mouth before a friend of Jones handed it back to him saying "that's yours."

Bloody Profs:

Here’s something I hope never to see in one of my law school classes:

... I have also learned where this UCLA graduate student may have gotten the idea to play Russian roulette in front of his classmates.

It seems that his professor, an HIV-positive gay man, once cut himself open and bled (HIV-positive blood flowing from one of his tattoos) in front of a live audience. Another UCLA professor once allowed himself to be shot in the arm with a rifle in an art gallery as a means of “artistic expression.”

Monsters or Madness?:

As long ago as 1966, Philip Rieff’s book The Triumph of the Therapeutic predicted that the psychological mode of understanding human behavior would triumph over traditional moral modes that emphasize personal responsibility.

Nearly 40 years later, it’s hard to deny Rieff’s prescience. Oprah, Dr. Phil, and even Dr. James Dobson of the conservative Christian Focus on the Family have become household names in large part because of their ability to “feel our pain.” But how many ethicists, moral philosophers, and theologians can you name?

Jonah Goldberg has an excellent column tying these changes to the recent spate of gruesome child abuse cases:

For decades, a therapeutic culture of "understanding" was on the rise. Except for acts of racism and so-called homophobia, there was a mad rush to "understand" evil people. Were they victims of a racist culture? Were they abused themselves? Were they expressing their natural frustration with the patriarchal capitalist system? Blah, blah, blah.

The tragedy of the imagination was that we couldn't appreciate that evil is real and it exists. In a society where everyone is a victim and it's not right to "judge" others, there's just not much room left for real monsters, while society itself becomes monstrous. Hannibal Lecter became a charming rogue, the Grinch who Stole Christmas became the victim of the judgmental Whovilleans in the Jim Carrey movie, the ersatz Mayberry of Andy Griffith became a nest of fascists in "Pleasantville."

Goldberg makes excellent points. Still, we mustn’t be like the drunk who, having once fallen off the left side of the horse, climbs back up only to fall off the right side. In other words, mental illness is no less real than evil, and to deny this would do a great disservice to those who desperately need psychiatric intervention and treatment.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Beers, Steers, and Queers:

It's 6:22 in the morning, and I still haven't gone to bed yet. Between class, law review assignments, and the paper for work I've been trying to get finished for the past four months, it's a wonder I sleep at all.

But I'm not complaining. How could I in this age of Queer Beer? That's the new Swiss beverage that will be marketed especially for gays and lesbians. It's a shameless (and not especially clever) ploy to exploit the gay market, of course. And it's not quite the same thing as full legal and social equality.

But it sure beats the hell out of being burnt at the stake, hung, castrated, sentenced to hard labor, or subjected to electroshock therapy--all prospects that "sodomites" in England and the U.S. once had to fear. Even today sodomy remains a legal offense in many countries carrying penalties ranging from caning in Malaysia to life imprisonment in Nepal to death in Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

One day all this will change. But until then, this "beef and beer" Christian--to borrow Chesterton's fine phrase--eagerly awaits his first taste of Queer Beer.

(Hat tip: Evangelical Outpost.)

Brave New World:

And so it begins:
The scientist who attracted the world's attention by cloning Dolly the Sheep is about to take another major step for medical research: cloning human embryos . . . .
Read the whole thing. As you consider all that this research promises, consider as well the position taken by Amy Laura Hall, an ordained Methodist minister and professor at Duke University who specializes in bioethics.

Hall--who is neither a fundamentalist nor a rightwinger--brilliantly exposes the lie behind the argument that embryonic stem cell research is simply a matter of personal ethics and private choice. She predicts that, within five or ten years, we will see courts forcing parents to provide their children with therapies derived from the research.

Hall also observes how the media have caricatured the debate as a simple contest between "the broadminded, rational pursuit of science versus the myopic, irrational protection of human embryos." But these are not our only choices even from a scientific standpoint. After all, embryos are not the only or even the most promising source of human stem cells.

And if everyone has suddenly become so concerned about saving sick children--the goal which advocates of this research inevitably tout in their propaganda--why do we let millions of children in the developing world die each year when we already possess relatively inexpensive medical therapies that could save the vast majority of them? To cite just one example, the UN has noted:
Despite the availability of a safe, effective and relatively inexpensive vaccine for over 40 years, measles remains a major cause of childhood mortality affecting nearly 30 million children and killing an estimated 610 000 children in 2002.
That's a lot of dead children we could save without destroying a single human embryo. But, as Amy Laura Hall observes, things really aren't that simple--a fact that has not been lost on the "medical-industrial complex":

Those of us who listen to NPR and watch The West Wing expend considerable effort earnestly avoiding twists of fate that would bring us into contact with suffering. We have ways to avoid and distance the plight of “other” people’s children who suffer from lead paint exposure or emission-induced asthma.

But this dying child [featured in an article touting the promise of stem cell research], with his blue eyes and light brown hair, taps into my deepest fear that I am not in control and cannot ultimately protect my daughters from the anguish of finite, fragile, human existence.

For all of our care and attention, our private-schools, gated communities, and combat-style vehicles, the children of the upper classes may still end up with a life-altering or even fatal disease. Disease still creeps through the fortress, and that child on the cover of the magazine could just as easily be my own. His face thus compels not only my mercy, but my reconsideration of the status of incipient life.

Vatican Revises Annulment Rules:

Just over six percent of the world's Catholics live in the United States. Yet the U.S. church generates 70 percent of the church's 56,000 annual annulment requests. That number may increase under revised annulment procedures released yesterday by the Vatican:

A rule in the new document makes an annulment slightly easier to obtain by allowing a church appeals court to uphold an annulment grant by a lower court even if the appeals court's conclusion differs slightly from the original tribunal's on why the marriage should be voided. On the other hand, the new rules still require an appeals court to rule even if all parties and the initial tribunal agree that an annulment is permissible.

The document disappointed some American Catholics who had hoped that the Vatican would dramatically tighten the rules. "In America we are swamped by a culture that treats marriage very lightly," said Charles Molineaux of McLean, who belongs to a lay group devoted to defending church orthodoxy. "The church is supposed to be confronting the culture, not floating with it."

Indeed. Some may remember the small scandal that broke out a few years back when the church granted an annulment to US Rep. Joseph Kennedy, who was married to Sheila Rauch-Kennedy for 14 years and has two children with her. Kennedy's request for an annulment was granted on the ground that he lacked "due discretion," a term which means he did not possess the proper mental capacity to enter into marriage at the time of the weddinig.

One could be forgiven for wondering why a priest would not have noticed such a decifiency during the ceremony. But this may be a bit unfair. Ascertaining the mental capacity of another human being can be quite difficult, after all. This may be why most churches require only that the two have the right combination of genitalia. That, and enough money to pay the wedding fee.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Martha Stewart’s Accomplice:

This strikes me as important news I should have commented on earlier:

NBC said [last] Tuesday it would broadcast an additional version of the hit reality show "The Apprentice" featuring Martha Stewart as host . . .

[T]he format of the show will be tailored to Stewart's personality and brand identity, according to the network.

Hmm. There must be at least several dozen jokes lurking in that last sentence. But I'll resist the temptation to exploit them and leave it to you and your conscience, dear reader, to ponder the question posed in an advertisement for the show: "Do you have what it takes to be Martha Stewart's apprentice?"

Teaching Our Children Well:

Here are a couple of stories about good old-fashioned, red-blooded Americans who like straight sex and enjoy torturing and killing their children.

What the first story does not mention is that Florida--where the Dollars and their adopted children live--does not allow gays and lesbians to adopt children. The second story, meanwhile, doesn't explain how a person can successfully bludgeon her 14-year-old daughter with a hammer and a shovel, and then botch her own suicide attempt. Can a person really be smart enough to kill her child but too dumb to kill herself?

Well, at least all the news today isn't bad:
Cancer doesn't doom youngsters to a miserable childhood, new research suggests, finding that after treatment, many are just as happy and well-adjusted as those who never had the illness -- sometimes even more.
This story, on the other hand, is a little bit harder to evaluate:

The church-owned Great Western Forum has canceled an April 9 concert appearance by the heavy metal band Lamb of God because church leaders were offended by the group's previous name, Burn the Priest.

"We do owe something to our congregants,"said Marc Little, general counsel for the Faithful Central Bible Church, which owns the Forum, the former home of the Los Angeles Lakers. "We have to draw the line somewhere."

Well, I reckon we do have to draw it somewhere. Here's where I'd recommend drawing it:
The growing use of highly addictive methamphetamine throughout the country is creating a prominent scar on an increasing number of users — rotting, brittle teeth that seem to crumble from their mouths.

Trust Fund Paupers:

I have a rule against writing about Social Security that has nothing to do with my complete lack of expertise in the subject and everything to do with the fact that, at my age and income level (i.e., $0), it's hard to get worked up over the issue.

But this article by Brian Riedl suggests that those of us who are Gen Xers and Gen Yers (is that the right word?) have more reason to worry about Social Security than some of our political leaders would have us to believe. Reidl makes the following analogy to explain how the government uses the program's current surpluses to "invest" in Treasury bonds, which then provide the government with additional funds that are mixed in with all the other tax revenue and spent on current spending programs:

It’s like a family that borrows money from its retirement fund each year to pay for vacations and expensive dinners. When they finally retire, their retirement fund consists of nothing more than paper IOUs.
This strikes me as a very imprudent strategy for raising revenue. My own Episcopal Church, however, would apparently ask only whether it meets the demands of “justice and compassion." Or so, at least, it would appear from the claims set forth by the Episcopal Public Policy Network in its “Faith Reflection on the Federal Budget.” The document, which is also signed by a number of other denominations and religious groups, makes a number of other remarkable claims:

The budget should reflect a commitment to the common good by ensuring that the basic needs of all members of society are met. At this time, when more than 45 million Americans are uninsured, over 8 million are unemployed and over 12 percent live in poverty, additional cuts to critical human needs programs cannot be justified....
The key words here would seem to be “critical” and “needs.” As in programs that really work and do not simply waste money, foster habits of dependency, or attempt to address problems that do not really exist (as appears to be the case with the exaggerated claims about the health insurance "crisis").

Budget decisions must be evaluated not just in the short term, but with respect to their long-term effects on our children’s children, the global community and on all of creation . . .
All of creation? Even the planet Pluto?

Our government should be a tool to correct inequalities, not a means of institutionalizing them. The federal budget should share the burdens of taxation, according to one’s ability to pay, and distribute government resources fairly to create opportunity for all.
Well, who can disagree with that? But the devil is in the details, as the saying goes, which is why I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for legislators to be preached to in such vague, generalized terms, but never given any real specifics.

Perhaps the well-intentioned religious leaders ought to have spent more time reflecting on the example set by Joseph before they assumed the role of government advisor. At least he offered Pharaoh a very practical plan for avoiding what otherwise would have been a devastating famine.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Ex-Gays and Ex-Ex-Gays:

When I first heard about the elected school board official in Fairfax, Virginia, who is urging high school principals to invite ex-gay speakers to their campuses, my initial reaction was anger. The official, after all, has not exactly make an effort to hide his anti-gay agenda. As he put it in a letter to the principals:

Children are being taught that homosexuality is normal and natural. It is neither. To state that it is normal or natural is to promote the myth that accompanies the homosexual activist rhetoric.
Then I remembered John Paulk, the former head of Focus on the Family’s campaign to convert gay people to heterosexuality and author of Not Afraid to Change: The Remarkable Story of How One Man Overcame Homosexuality. I’m sure the kids could learn a lot from his “remarkable” story.

Possibly the most well-known ex-gay man in the US, Paulk earlier in life was a little-known transvestite named Candi. Then, with conversion to heterosexuality, came fame. He and his ex-lesbian wife Anne were featured in a 1998 campaign that included advertisements in the New York Times and other newspapers with messages about “overcoming” homosexuality. The couple was also on the cover of Newsweek, and they've been featured on "Oprah" and "60 Minutes."

Things began to unravel several years ago when Paulk caused a scandal after being spotted and photographed in a Washington, D.C., gay bar. He claimed that he had gone in to use the bathroom, but other patrons said he spent nearly an hour at the bar, used an alias, and flirted with at least one male patron. The incident was a major setback for the "ex-gay" movement, and Paulk was removed as chairman of Exodus International, a pioneer "ex-gay" group.

Now that's a pretty remarkable story, don't you think?

But if Paulk is unavailable to speak, the schools could always call on Gary Cooper and Michael Bussee, two men who helped found Exodus International and then left the ex-gay movement after they fell in love with one another. They had a commitment ceremony in 1982 and have been together ever since. I would think theirs would be a far more appropriate story for children than Colin Cook’s, whose career as founder and head of Homosexuals Anonymous ended in disgrace when it was discovered he was having sexual encounters with his male clients.

On second thought, maybe the schools should invite Jeremey Mark, the former head of the UK-based ex-gay ministry Courage (which is part of the umbrella group Exodus International). Mark left the group in 2001 after determining that the ministry needed a fresh approach. The reason? After fourteen years, he said, “None of the people we've counseled have converted no matter how much effort and prayer they've put into it. There is much more benefit to the honest view.”

The honest view. Now that’s something the kids—and school officials—of Fairfax could really stand to hear.

The Not-A-Genocide:

A U.N.-appointed commission reports that 70,000 black Sudanese have died and another 1.8 million have been forced from their homes in government-supported militia attacks that do not constitute a “genocide.”

The last time the UN hesitated to use the “g”-word, it will be recalled, was back in 1994, when an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were literally hacked to death by machetes within the span of 100 days. Only after most of the killings had stopped did the international community decide that a “genocide” had begun. After all, making the determination earlier would have created a legal obligation for the UN, US, and other signatories of the Convention on Genocide to intervene in order “to prevent” further acts of genocide.

Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, who was head of a small UN peacekeeping force stationed in Rwanda when the massacres began, spoke last year at a UN memorial conference marking the 10th anniversary of the genocide. He explained how at the time no one was interested in saving Rwandans. On the contrary, the small force he commanded was prevented from intervening and eventually ordered to leave the country. Then Dallaire told the conference:
I still believe that if an organization decided to wipe out the 320 mountain gorillas there would be still more of a reaction by the international community to curtail or to stop that than there would be still today in attempting to protect thousands of human beings being slaughtered in the same country.
That was March 2004. Nearly a year later, we now know Dallaire was right. Interestingly, though, this has not stopped EU and US leaders from squabbling over how the perpetrators of the not-a-genocide in Sudan should be prosecuted once it is over. Justice may not be swift, but when it comes, at least we can rest assured it will be rendered by the proper authorities. All of us, that is, except for the victims.

Bacchus and the Commerce Clause:

In classical antiquity, ceremonies celebrating the wine god Dionysus or Bacchus were the scene of orgiastic rites:

Chiefly associated with women, the worship of Dionysus or Bacchus took place every two years in the winter months, when the bacchantes took off to the mountains. Once beyond the reach of their men folk, they were inspired to ecstatic frenzy, drinking excessive quantities of wine and dancing wildly to the clashing of cymbals and the pounding of their long staffs.
Things are a bit different for modern American law students. We get invitations to events like this: "The American Constitution Society's '21st Amendment v. Dormant Commerce Clause Wine Event.'"

I don't think I'll go. It's not that I have anything against mixing business with pleasure, mind you, but I draw the line at the dormant commerce clause. It's just not the sort of thing I ever want to cross my mind when I'm enjoying a glass of Merlot.

NY's Gay Marriage 'Victory':

I've already explained here and here why I don't think gays and lesbians should resort to lawsuits to win the right to marry. But shouldn't we be happy when the strategy works?

Consider the reaction of Jo-Ann Shain, one of the plaintiffs in Hernandez v. Robles, to the New York trial court's ruling that the state's constitution prohibits restricting marriage to opposite sex couples:
I was even more moved than I thought I’d be when I heard about this ruling. All of us cried – me, Mary Jo and our 15-year-old daughter. For the first time, our family is being treated with the respect and dignity that our friends, coworkers and neighbors automatically have.
It's hard not to be moved by Shain's words. At the same time, however, the court's reasoning in Hernandez leaves much to be desired. John Balk finds particularly puzzling the court's due process argument that the right to marry includes an unqualified right to choose whom to marry:

But the problem is that this would undermine state laws regarding incest and polygamy as well, and the court makes no attempt to distinguish those cases from the case of same-sex marriage. Indeed, at one point in the opinion (p. 45), the court uses the example of polygamy to show that marriage has meant different things at different times and in different places.

If Balk--a supporter of gay marriage--can spot this issue, we can be certain the religious right will as well. It's only a matter of time before they exploit it as yet more evidence for why the Constitution should be amended to prohibit gay marriage. Already Mathew Staver, president of the "pro-family" legal group Liberty Counsel, has said to the Baptist Press of the decision:
To preserve marriage we have to win 100 percent of the time. To destroy the institution, we only need one loss. And that's another reason why we need constitutional amendments on the state and federal level.
Hernandez will be appealed, and it's anyone's guess what the New York Court of Appeals (the state's high court) will do. But even if the decision is affirmed, gays and lesbians must carefully scrutinize claims that cases like these represent "victories." It's simply too early in the story of gay rights to know whether they really are. To put the matter in terms of the black civil rights movement, this could be the 1960s--or it could be the 1860s. We just don't have enough information to know for sure which it is.

Then, too, there is the basic counter-majoritarian difficulty posed by judicial activism. Balk explains the problem this way:

I strongly support same sex marriage, but my decided preference is for legislatures to adopt reform of the marriage laws rather than have courts impose the reform. If courts are going to get involved, I greatly prefer the approach of the Vermont Supreme Court in Baker v. State-- hold that the current law is unconstitutional, explain the rough contours of the constitutional principles that a statute would have to satisfy, and send the issue to the legislature to come up with a solution.

That is not the same thing as having the legislature take the issue up on its own, but it does have the advantage of giving the result some degree of democratic ratification.

Just so.

Government of the People, by the People, for Allah:

Today we are assured with confidence that Arabs, consumed by tribe or religion or whatever, don't really care about freedom either. On Jan. 30 millions of Iraqis said otherwise. They really do care about the right to speak freely and to vote secretly, the ordinary elements of democratic citizenship.
So wrote conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer on Feb. 4. I wonder what he’ll say about this news from over the weekend?
Iraq's Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and another top cleric today staked out a radical demand that Islam be the sole source of legislation in the country's new constitution.

Then there are the troubling reports about the persecution of Iraq's Christians and claims they were prevented from voting in last week's election.

None of which is to deny or downplay the prudence of toppling Saddam Hussein's regime or the significance of Iraq's first multiparty elections in half a century. But it does seem worth remembering that democracy, when wrenched from the principle of limited government, can be just as tyrannical as any dictatorship. As Burke observed more than two centuries ago:

Of this I am certain, that in a democracy, the majority of the citizens is capable of exercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority, whenever strong divisions prevail in that kind of polity, as they often must; and that oppression of the minority will extend to far greater numbers, and will be carried on with much greater fury, than can almost ever be apprehended from the dominion of a single sceptre.

In such a popular persecution, individual sufferers are in a much more deplorable condition than in any other. Under a cruel prince they have the balmy compassion of mankind to assuage the smart of their wounds; they have the plaudits of the people to animate their generous constancy under their sufferings: but those who are subjected to wrong under multitudes, are deprived of all external consolation. They seem deserted by mankind, overpowered by a conspiracy of their whole species.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

St. Paul Miki:

Today's Saint:
Nagasaki, Japan, is familiar to Americans as the city on which the second atomic bomb was dropped, killing hundreds of thousands. Three and a half centuries before, 26 martyrs of Japan were crucified on a hill, now known as the Holy Mountain, overlooking Nagasaki. Among them were priests, brothers and laymen, Franciscans, Jesuits and members of the Secular Franciscan Order; there were catechists, doctors, simple artisans and servants, old men and innocent children—all united in a common faith and love for Jesus and his Church.

Brother Paul Miki, a Jesuit and a native of Japan, has become the best known among the martyrs of Japan. While hanging upon a cross Paul Miki preached to the people gathered for the execution: “The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”

When missionaries returned to Japan in the 1860s, at first they found no trace of Christianity. But after establishing themselves they found that thousands of Christians lived around Nagasaki and that they had secretly preserved the faith. Beatified in 1627, the martyrs of Japan were finally canonized in 1862.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Muslim Apostacy:

Commentary has an excellent article about what happens when Muslims convert to Christianity or other faiths:

In the Islamic world, there is a broad consensus, both popular and scholarly, that apostates deserve to be killed. A rich theological and intellectual tradition, stretching as far back as Muhammad and his companions, supports this position. Though official proceedings against those who reject Islam are fairly rare—in part, no doubt, because most keep their conversion a closely held secret—apostasy is punishable by death in Afghanistan, Comoros, Iran, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen.1 It is also illegal in Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, the Maldives, Oman, and Qatar.

The greatest threat to apostates in the Muslim world derives not from the state, however, but from private individuals who take punishment into their own hands. In Bangladesh, for example, a native-born Muslim-turned-Christian evangelist was stabbed to death in the spring of 2003 while returning home from a film version of the Gospel of Luke. As another Bangladeshi apostate told the U.S. Newswire, “If a Muslim converts to Christianity, now he cannot live in this country. It is not safe. The fundamentalism is increasing more and more.”

The article also notes that, in Canada and elsewhere--and much to the chagrin of feminists--there are efforts to incorporate more elements of Sharia into the civil law for parties willing to be so bound. Read the whole thing.


Good News For My Hometown Winston-Salem (a.k.a. the Camel City): Everyone knows the government is way too wussy to actually ban smoking, but that hasn't stopped first the states and now the federal government from trying to get their cut of the profits. This may finally be coming to an end:

A federal court yesterday rejected the government's attempt to recover $280 billion in past profits from the tobacco industry, wiping out the most powerful penalty that could have been imposed in the landmark racketeering case against cigarette manufacturers...

But by a vote of 2 to 1, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned an earlier decision by the judge presiding over the trial, who said she could order the companies to make such a payment, known as "disgorgement," if she found an industry pattern of past fraud.

Democracy and the Islamic Revolution: The people of Iraq have finally spoken, and it looks like what they've said is that they want a government more like Iran's than Turkey's. Or so it would seem based on returns so far:

Despite the absence of full results, some Shiite parties heralded a landslide. "According to the last report we got from the election commission, our blessed list got 57 percent," Jalaledin Saghir, who represents the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told worshipers at the Baratha mosque in Baghdad. "I want to kiss the hands of the workers at the elections commission, who were completely honest."

Debt relief for African nations may be coming soon.

French workers don't mind going to the trouble of protesting if it means they can save the 35 hour work week.

Metropolitan bishop Panteleimon of Attica, Greece, was suspended for six months pending a church probe into alleged embezzlement of parish funds and "ethical" misconduct.

Global warming has some benefits, as the people of South Dakota learned yesterday when temperatures reached 70 degrees and higher -- warmer than Miami.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Marriage Equality in NY:


A New York State court ruled Friday that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry.

State Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan said that the New York State Constitution guarantees basic freedoms to lesbian and gay people, and that those rights are violated when same-sex couples are not allowed to marry.

The ruling said the state Constitution requires same-sex couples to have equal access to marriage, and that the couples represented by Lambda Legal must be given marriage licenses.